In an AP story published in both the Detroit News (“Does Blair's move doom coalition?”) and the Detroit Free Press (“'Coalition of willing' is wilting”) on Thursday, something like a full list itemizing the number of allies fighting with the United States in Iraq appeared for the first time since March 2003. Up until now such lists have been conspicuously absent, as they are direct evidence that the United States was not acting “unilaterally” in Iraq, or that the President was not “going it alone” and behaving like a “cowboy.”
For four years the existence of a coalition has been one of the most under-reported facts of all the under-reported facts about the war.
But today, it’s finally all right to print a list, as mentioning America’s allies helps in reporting how they’re all abandoning Iraq.
Rush Limbaugh had a similar observation yesterday, when he played a montage of sound bites from several giddy newscasters declaring that Tony Blair’s announcement of a withdrawal of some 1,600 troops from southern Iraq was proof positive that the coalition allies are abandoning the Iraq war even more precipitously than the Democratic Congress:
“ED HENRY: No matter how the White House tries to play this, this is clearly a blow to Mr. Bush, when you combine it with what's just crossing the hours over the last hour or so that Denmark is also going to pull its troops from Iraq. The perception is reality, and the perception is that US allies are now walking away, and they're shunning what Mr. Bush has repeatedly said, that setting a timetable and withdrawing troops is not the right way to go. His allies are now walking away.
“RUSH: We did a Nexis search here, folks, this morning because I could not ever recall Ed Henry at CNN telling us that Denmark had troops in Iraq. I never knew from CNN that Denmark was part of our coalition. So we did a LexisNexis search, and we can't find, of all the CNN transcripts, we cannot find a day prior to today where CNN reporter Ed Henry ever reported that Denmark has troops in Iraq.”
Note how Ed Henry also falls back on the “perception is reality” slogan, which as a general proposition is both irrational and untrue. Perception is not reality. For that matter, notice how he relies on the “perception” that “US allies are now walking away,” and insisting on “setting a timetable,” even when that is demonstrably not the reality--as Tony Blair made perfectly clear in his announcement on Tuesday that British troops would be expected to remain in Iraq at least through 2008, and that further withdrawals would be “condition-based,” not based on any timetable.
But when you want to accomplish a reality by manipulating perception, it’s best to create the perception first, then call it reality. That’s how Walter Cronkite did it when he called the US victory during the Tet offensive a US defeat.
It isn’t all the media’s fault that the number and identities of coalition partners has remained a secret. (Did you know Georgia contributed 900 soldiers? El Salvador 380? Poland 600?). Since March 2003 the President has wasted opportunities during every speech he gave on Iraq to painstakingly itemize every nation in the coalition, especially during his State of the Union speeches. He could have listed them slowly to give the cameras time to pan to irritated Democrats who’d shot their faces off accusing him of acting unilaterally, and at the same time the slow build up of nations would give his supporters something to cheer for.
Yes, most of the coalition nations have sent only token forces. But Blair is only withdrawing 1,600 troops, and look at how much “perception” the Left is getting out of that? And more important, even one token troop is a token of that nation’s endorsement of the President’s policy in Iraq. And a better use of those tokens sure could have been made to shut up the left’s whining that the “whole world” has been against us on the Iraq war.
Too bad. Now it's getting late to advance the perception of that reality.